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Swim turns deadly as father, son drown in Lake Superior



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Skye Giroux (from left) and her father, Douglas Smith, and brother, Eric Smith, on Lake Superior in 2006. (click for larger version)
August 11, 2010 - What began as a fun, family swim in the Upper Peninsula last week quickly turned into a tragic event as an Oxford man and his Lake Orion son lost their lives.

Douglas Alan Smith, 50, and his 16-year-old son, Eric James Smith, drowned in Lake Superior after they got caught in a suspected rip current while swimming in Grand Marais Harbor in Alger County's Burt Township.

Douglas was a senior computer operator at Hewlett Packard, while his son was a student at Lake Orion High School.

Around 6 p.m. Aug. 5, the father was swimming in the bay with his son and 23-year-old daughter, Skye Giroux, when all three became caught in a suspected rip current, according to Michigan State Police.

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Giroux noticed a change in the water.

"All of a sudden the waves just got weird," she said. "They weren't coming at me, toward the shore, they were coming from the shore, and from the side. They were sloshing into each other and churning around me. I thought 'Well, this is weird.' I could see where the waves were normal a half dozen feet away from me."

Giroux was able to break free of the current. It was then that she observed her father and brother were in distress and finding it difficult to stay above the waves.

"My dad and my brother are in the middle of where I just was and they're panicking and my dad is screaming for my brother to swim parallel to shore," she said.

Giroux attempted to help, but was unable to reach them due to the strong current and waves. She told them to hang on and try to stay afloat while she went for help.

By the time she swam to shore to call for assistance, the father and son were submerged. The U.S. Coast Guard, National Parks Service, Alger County Sheriff's Department and Burt Township Fire and Rescue all responded to the scene in an attempt to save the Smiths.

State Police indicated the rescue effort was hampered by heavy seas.

The bodies of both victims were recovered the next day by the state police Underwater Recovery Unit and Alger County Dive Team. Eric's body was recovered at approximately 1:45 p.m. while his father's was found at approximately 2:50 p.m.

They were Lake Superior's fourth and fifth drowning victims in the last three weeks.

Divers found the victims' bodies in approximately 20 to 30 feet of water. They were located within the primary search area based on witness accounts of the incident.

Giroux will miss her father and brother very much.

She described her dad as a "character."

"My sister and I were just at a party, telling everyone about our crazy dad," Giroux said.

She talked with the utmost affection about his "caveman diet" and "bizarre taste in music."

"He took me to my first opera," she noted. "Every year we went. It was our daddy/daughter date."

Eric, who was about to enter his junior year at LOHS, liked photography, video games, and music. He often tinkered with the keyboard, the drums and the piano.

"It's surreal," Giroux said. "I just can't wrap my head around the fact that he's never going to come through my door again."

Even though he was her ex-husband, Nancy Smith called Douglas her best friend. They shared custody of Eric, who was their youngest child.

Of Eric, Nancy said,"He was a quiet, laid-back kid, but the joy of our lives. He was hilarious. He loved to torment me and his dad."

Funeral services for Douglas and Eric Smith will take place at 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 13 at Sparks-Griffin Funeral Home in downtown Lake Orion.

Visitations are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 12 from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.

Douglas Smith is survived by his children Autumn Smith, Skye Giroux and David Smith; siblings Stanley Smith, Sarah (Donald) Loewen and Alline (Larry) Sulla; father James Smith; and nieces and nephews. He's preceded in death by his mother Martha Smith.

Eric Smith is survived by his mother Nancy Smith; siblings Autumn Smith, Skye Giroux and David Smith; grandfather James Smith; best friend Ian Kelly; and many aunts, uncles and cousins. He's preceded in death by grandparents Martha Smith and Bernard and Mary Giroux.

Guest reflections can be made at www.sparksgriffin.com.

Lake Orion Review Editor Laura Colvin contributed to this story.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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